January 20th, 2021

Giving and receiving

By Submitted Article on February 28, 2020.

Sheep and shepherd

First of three parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

Wildebeests, buffaloes, zebras and white rhinos are grazers (grass-eaters), while kudus, giraffes, duikers and black rhinos are browsers (leaf-eaters). Elephants, impalas, goats and sheep feed on both grass and leaves. During droughts, however, most grazers will resort to browsing out of necessity.

Herbivores eat plants, and carnivores eat herbivores. Because the first is more plentiful than the latter, carnivores don’t threaten the survival of herbivores. When they spot a sick or injured animal, predators would rather take it than wasting more energy on chasing a healthy one. In doing so, they improve the health of the herd.

Herd animals prevent straying by uttering grunts and calls while feeding. They know there is safety in numbers. Sheep are known to stray easily. They are so engaged in feeding that they lose contact with the flock. The next bush or patch of grass always looks better, so they wander off. A straggler becomes easy prey.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why the Bible compares believers to sheep. They go astray so easily, not deliberately, just drifting off.

Therefore, sheep and believers need shepherds to lead them to the best grazing and water (Ps. 23:2, John 10:10), to guard against predators (John 10:12-15, Acts 20:28-29), to nurse the sick (Ezek. 34:1-5), and to bring strays back (Luke 15:1-7).

Abraham and Lot owned flocks and herds, and had herdsmen tending them (Gen. 13:1-8). Rachel and Jacob had flocks in their care (Gen. 29:9, 30:29). Joseph and Moses, too, were shepherds (Gen. 37:2, Ex. 3:1). David became the most famous shepherd when he prevailed against Goliath, and eventually became king (2 Sam. 16:11, 17:15, 28, 34-36, 40). He saw himself as a sheep in care of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23).

When owners take the sheep’s wool or life, it is helpless and submits passively (Is. 53:7), depicting the Messiah in his humiliation (Luke 23:9, John 19:7-11).

Sheep have little defence against predators. When alerted, they stamp their front feet. When the predator charges, they scatter and run, though they can’t outrun their enemies.

God chose these rather dumb and powerless creatures to portray believers. We are as dependent on the Lord as sheep are on the shepherd, and as branches are on the vine – “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

However, Christ’s wisdom surpasses that of the world by far (1 Cor. 1:18-25). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Matt. 28:18). His name is above every name, and in his name every knee will bow, acknowledging that he is Lord of all (Phil. 2:9-11).

Our strength is not in ourselves but in our Shepherd, who bought us with his own life (John 10:14-17).

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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